“What’s at stake?” Dispatches from the 70th Annual Parsons Benefit

by Flaunt Magazine

“What’s at stake?” said Burak Cakmak, the Dean of the School of Fashion at the Parsons School of Design as he introduced the different categories of special prizes for the graduating class of 2018. What Cakmak meant is that a fashion education at Parsons isn’t just about the fundamentals of design, but how fashion and the design has to address larger societal, economic, cultural and even the political environment in a rapidly changing world. The 'Gender Theme,' for instance, encompasses fashion projects that examine, redefine, and reimagine gender and gender roles across cultural, social, political and personal experience.

“Boss gave us many old jackets, pants and coats and we repurpose these old and used garments and create new garments that is completely different from what we were given,” said Irene Lu, one of the five student member of the Boss Skeleton team that included Elijah Depries, Camila Hopkinson, Alex O’Brien and Lara Tang. She showed the inner linings of a black patchwork wool jacket with a shiny polyester lining. Nearby Jose Luis Cabrera explained the mono-material light navy single breasted slim suit made entirely with just one fabric in a circular design system so as to minimize waste, water consumption, and manpower as part of the Boss One initiatives with his teammates Annabella Waszkiewicz and Gwyneth Ong.  The students aim to achieve a greater understanding and participation in sustainability projects that also involves the consumer, who can return old clothes to stores to exchange for other items. 


Graduating students adhere to their chosen theme and excel in creating garments as an expression of their thesis. “One of our best friends, Christina M, is paralyzed in both arms. We are creating a collection of clothes that redefine the normative systems of dress—like this skirt that has a long string attached so that Christina can use her leg or even the door knob to pull the skirt up,” said Yu Chen and Claudia Poh of their collaboration called Cair Collective. The pair made a video showing how Christina is able to independently put on the dresses and skirts and even a pair of pants. 

Fashion is part of and a reflection of ongoing societal upheavals such as the recent reactions among young people to gun violence. Kara Moss called her thesis ‘An Armor of Vulnerability’ as she used real bullet casing shell, embroidered black laces used in making lingerie, and corset pieces. Annie Leung saw the same devastation of gun violence but opted for a different approach in offering clothes that are more protective like police uniforms made in black silk satin and utilitarian garments.

William Stautberg designed his thesis collection around the very basic high school and college preppy looks but with significant twists like a white or gingham singlet jumpsuit made with university Oxford shirting stripe. Stautberg transforms the familiarity of the preppy garments by extending and adding new elements. 


SiXuan aims to translate the design menswear concept through the innovative use of deconstruction, but with creative garments that are still wearable. “Civil Disobedience,” the title of her thesis, reflects important Chinese social issues through the redesign of the uniforms of six categories of people and identities—doctors, priests, prisoners, lawyers, artists, and students.  The priest outfit is a black long sleeve tunic jacket with a beige pleated high collar turtleneck and long pants with slits at the bottom. The prisoner look composes of a khaki X cross sleeve jacket similar to a garment worn by inmates of insane asylums. Making fashion that is also a form of social engagement merges with an activist's call for attention to human rights on an epic scale. 

Miles Socha, the editor of WWD, reminded the student graduates that they are entering a very different world, a world that has gone from globalization to digitalization, where fashion plays a greater role in fostering conversations on integration, on sustainability of the fashion system, and on social change. “Status is much less important now.  Trends no longer come from the high fashion runway.  Creativity comes from thinkers and storytellers.  Remember the power of dreams and that you, the graduates are the new dream makers.” Socha said.  


Guests included: Solange Knowles, Dev Hynes, Kelela, Bethany Frankel, Dapper Dan, Hilary Rhoda, La La Anthony, Marco Bizarre, José Neves, and Rondee Hollis-Jefferson.

Written by Long Nguyen